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Monarchs Who Made Rare Choice to Summer at TPML’s Butterfly Garden Face Fall Migration

(L-r): Queen and monarch caterpillars were spotted at the same time on milkweed planted at Tye Preston Memorial Library's Butterfly Garden in July -- a very unusual phenomenon, a local butterfly expert said. Queen butterflies usually appear well after monarchs have departed. Image courtesy of Susan Bogle.

Something odd happened over the summer at Tye Preston Memorial Library’s Butterfly Garden.

Some monarch butterflies — who use the garden as a way station during migrations to and from Mexico — decided to stay behind in the spring when their cohorts headed north.

“This year was very unique in that all of Comal County was reporting sightings of the monarch butterfly throughout the summer, which is when they are usually nowhere to be seen because they are congregating in the north and on up into even Canada,” said Susan Bogle, president of the board of the Canyon Lake Community Library District, and a Lindheimer master naturalist who oversees the garden.

The phenomenon resulted in dual sightings of caterpillars of both queen and monarch butterflies on the garden’s milkweed plants.

“This has never been observed before, as the queen butterflies usually appear well after the monarchs have departed,” she said. “But as we can all state, this has been a year for the record books. We are of course hoping that these monarchs, who never went any farther north, will join the migration when it comes through our county this fall on its way to the over-wintering grounds in Mexico.”

Bogle thinks cooler and wetter conditions this spring may have encouraged the monarchs to settle in at the library and throughout Comal County.

Canyon Lake lies in the famous “Texas Funnel,” the area through which all monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains pass during their fall migration in September and October.

Click here to tour the garden. Click here to view a video she took at the El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico in February 2019. Click here to see monarchs and queens hovering in the garden.

Meanwile, Monika Maeckle with Texas Butterfly Ranch, which encompasses the geographic area around Austin, San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country, said Tuesday “things look good” as the 2021 monarch butterfly migration begins.

Sightings of the iconic insects in San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country are running strong, she said in an article posted online to TexasButterflyRanch.com.

Up in Ontario, Canada, tagger Donald Davis said almost all of the monarchs captured were in pristine condition.

Maeckle said peak monarch migration through Texas occurs between Oct. 10-22, just in time for San Antonio’s sixth annual Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival on Oct. 16.

She reports sightings of dozens of monarchs along the San Antonio River and said there are numerous accounts of monarch eggs, caterpillars, adults and even native milkweeds — unusual for this time of year.

Such sightings typically occur around Labor Day as part of a premigration migration, Maeckle said.

Another butterfly expert, Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, said conditions appear favorable for a large migratory population that could rival that of 2018.

In March, the outlook wasn’t that great.

Butterfly gardens along the San Antonio River were frozen to a crisp in February.

With the library’s butterfly garden severely pruned, Bogle hoped enough plants would be blooming in time for the butterflies’ northerly migration.

After breeding, female monarchs start moving north in search of milkweed, the only plant on which they’ll lay their eggs. If there’s no milkweed, they’ll keep flying or die without reproducing.

Bogle prophesied then that with warmer weather and some rain, TPML’s butterfly garden might blossom in time to help monarchs breed and feed on their way north.

“There’s no real food to encourage the monarchs to stop,” she said on March 5. “Some milkweed sprouts were spotted in the area the last few days, but they are so small they don’t offer much opportunity as larval hosts.

“But while the roosts in Mexico are restless, they haven’t actually started their migration yet, so hopefully by the time they do come through our area, we’ll have more to support their life cycle. My fingers are crossed. Our own butterfly garden just had its spring cleanup, so all the plants have been pruned fairly severely. There’s not much there to attract a monarch. But just give it some warm weather and some rain — that’ll make a real difference.”

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